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Sandoval County Master Gardeners win national honor for Rio Rancho demonstration garden

RIO RANCHO - Anyone who strolls through the Rio Rancho WaterWise Demonstration Garden nestled between the Rio Rancho Post Office and the Esther Bone Library on Pinetree Road SE knows it is a special place. Now gardeners from across the United States know it as well.

Rudy Benavidez, Sandoval County Extension agriculture agent, and Master Gardener Linda Poe display the plaque the Sandoval County Master Gardeners received on March 23 during the International Master Gardener recognition in Las Vegas, Nev. The Search for Excellence Award was given to the New Mexico Master Gardeners for the Rio Rancho WaterWise Demonstration Garden that they have created. (NMSU Courtesy Photo by Charles Poe)

The garden has received the International Master Gardener Search for Excellence Award, which is a cooperative effort of the Sandoval County Master Gardeners through New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension program and several City of Rio Rancho departments, partnering with the Rio Grande Basin Initiative, local businesses and community volunteers.

The award was presented on March 23 to Master Gardener Linda Poe, project coordinator, at the International Master Gardener Conference in Las Vegas, Nev.

Search for Excellence is the recognition program of Master Gardener volunteer work throughout the U.S. and Canada. There are seven categories - youth programs, demonstration garden, workshop or presentations, community service, innovative projects, special need audiences and research - in which Master Gardeners can demonstrate their outstanding contribution to their communities. To be selected for the award, the applicant must show that significant learning took place, whether by the Master Gardeners or the community touched by the project.

"Search for Excellence Award winners are chosen for their outstanding contribution to their community. Our volunteers have worked hard to create this community demonstration garden and we are proud that they received this award," said Rudy Benavidez, NMSU Sandoval County Extension director.

Those volunteering each week to work in the garden vary, but a core group has dedicated their time to the garden. Volunteers include Peter Colton, Janell Dunn, Elisa Flecha, Warren Gillett, Brooke Grant, Rebecca Hunter, Donnye Meinz, Loren Meinz, Russ Nagel, Charles Poe, Linda Poe, Jae Riebe, Otto Stangel, Anne Tellez, George Vedeler, Margaret Vedeler, Nancy Wade, Janet Wilder, Holly Wilkenfeld, Charlotte Wilson and Tom Wilson.

The garden demonstrates that xeric landscape has many visually appealing options easy to replicate in the homeowner's garden. Practical gardening methods are taught by Master Gardeners to the community about water-wise gardening techniques and xeric principles.

"Besides conserving water through appropriate plants, a variety of irrigation systems and mulching materials, the WaterWise Garden illustrates several water-harvesting techniques." said Linda of the infrastructure system that has conserved about 125,000 gallons of water over previous year's.

The garden consists of six garden areas - Main garden, Upland Forest, Mediterranean, Land Ends, The Healing Garden and the Veteran's Walk Up. Each area showcases a variety of xeric or adaptive plants and how their water needs are managed wisely.

The original WaterWise Garden was established in 2001. In 2006 Master Gardeners began updates to the original garden. The update initiated the garden expansions for the last three years, which constituted the period of evaluation for the Search For Excellence award. Master Gardeners planned and designed more water-efficient, drought-tolerant gardens. They established water harvesting enhancements and slope planting designs including paths to connect garden areas. They compiled a garden directory with maps, designed and installed signage, and on-site brochure boxes for visitors.

Approximately 9,000 visitors toured the gardens in 2008. Master Gardeners teach water savings to homeowners via the WaterWise Gardens. The volunteers give tours specific to groups - such as homeowners, grade school children, university classes, and out-of-state extension directors. HGTV toured and filmed the garden for airing in spring 2009 in an episode of "Gardening by the Yard" hosted by Paul James.

The WaterWise Garden is a template representing a hands-on learning tool for master gardeners and an easy duplicating experience for the community. The gardens illustrate how xeric landscape comes to life in the high desert of New Mexico.